I am blessed with a highly inquisitive daughter whom I spend most of my days fielding questions from. Questions like how did we get here if there were no people before? Where did dinosaurs come from and will they come back? Why don’t animals talk like we do? Why do people die and where do they go after? I love these questions and the spirit of curiosity from which they come, however I can’t really answer them with any certainty.
My daughters’ questions highlight a simple truth that much of life remains a mystery; and that in getting older I haven’t necessarily gained more clarity on the meaning and purpose of it all. This seems like rather a large blind spot considering I will spend the next decade guiding my children towards their future. Even at the young age of six, I can already sense the underlying pressure on children and their parents to prepare for what’s ahead. Something that will no doubt escalate as my daughter moves into adolescence and towards her final school years.
This pervasive trend to prepare our kids for the future is based on a relatively unchallenged assumption that it is actually possible to prepare NOW for a time in space far off in front of us. A future that no one has any certainty about. This is a topic close to my heart and work as a life coach, where I spend my days helping young and older people alike work out who they are and how to create the life they want. The greatest challenge we often face is moving past the limited beliefs of what is possible acquired from their childhood education.
Education is a valuable tool that empowers people through knowledge and develops the skills to function within society. For many parts of the world it remains a primary path to equality and offers the chance to improve life circumstances. In more developed countries however, it can struggle to meet the fast pace of change that characterises modern life. In my own lifetime reality has expanded from existing on only a physical plane to now include a virtual unseen universe through the internet. What I thought possible as a 16 year old has been surpassed many times over in the last 25 years.
So how do we as parents prepare our kids for a future that may include new realities yet to be discovered? What kind of skills and knowledge will support them to flourish in a world that we have not yet experienced and cannot really imagine. The idea that a child can rely heavily on a education system to prepare them for a life with this kind of uncertainty is naive, yet education is still delivered in an atmosphere of such certainty. The messages goes something like this – if you choose the right school and subjects, study hard, get good results you will be prepared for the future.
Those of us now well into our 30s and 40s know this is simply not true. In my own experience the job I have today did not exist when I was at school. I finished with excellent results and could have studied anything I wanted. The problem was I had no idea at 18 who I was or what I wanted to create. It took me a further 15 years of trial and error to find work that I am passionate about and do well. My inherent strengths and talents were not understood or acknowledged within the education system and therefore I had no awareness of my own potential early on.
This lack of clarity would seem normal if there was not an over-arching false message that somehow we should know at 18 what we will do for the rest of our life. Or worse that if we are not star students we have failed before we even began. Too often parents rely on the education system to inform them on what their kids can and can’t do and accept limited views of their childs’ potential by allowing them to be compared with other children. Every child is unique and develops at different rates and they all have something valuable and original to offer when their times comes.
Education provides amazing tools but it cannot guarantee that the strengths and talents of your child will be fully recognised and harnessed. Achieving good results may be satisfying but it is by no means a guide of what a child is truly capable of. Life is experiential, which means you learn from getting out there and diving in deep. A person who makes no mistakes is a person who has not lived or learnt.
Finishing school brings to an end 15 years of being told what is important, what to think and how to act. It is exactly at this point that young people need to go out, spread their wings, take some twists and turns and find their own way.We cannot prepare our kids for the future but we can give them the permission to be themselves without apology, to explore who they are in the NOW and to consider what THEY WANT at the deepest level.
We can allow them to make their own choices early on, voice their dreams without being judged, try out different routes even if it seems like a long detour, take as many different turns as necessary and playfully create their own life journey. For us parents this means resisting the pull to push our kids forward in a linear way. To move past our own fears, they will not succeed if we don’t step in and tell them who they are and how to live.
Finally, we can find within ourselves the courage to step back, create as much space as is humanly possible and simply allow their inherent wisdom to inform, guide and lead them in the NOW and towards their future.